Periscope Depth

one little, two little, three little, indie rap

It was a couple years ago, probably from Tim Ferriss, that I first read the Peter Drucker quote, “What gets measured, gets managed.” But it was only recently that I realized that wasn’t a threat.

I’m not even kidding here: it was years before I realized I was supposed to read that with a knowing nod. That doesn’t sound like a threat to you? Who wants to be managed? I’d like to be coached, sure. I’d like to be inspired to do great things. I’d like to be directed to where my talents can be put to the best use. But being managed sounds as much fun as being inventoried.

Working in a data heavy industry as I do, I take care to ask the right questions and to get the right numbers. If you have a spreadsheet full of data, it’s trivial to compare column A against column B and get some “A per B” metric. Is that metric useful, though? What does this actually tell us? Is it worth adding this level of detail when this larger trend tells us all we need to know? I take these precautions because I know that sifting data can turn into a job in itself. It feels productive, sure – look how much time you spend with SQL queries! Look how pretty those charts are! Number the cells of my spreadsheet and the bullets of my slide! But little is actually done.

As I embark on the start of a writing (and publishing) career, I have to keep this in mind.

The whole reason that self-publishing has shaken the world of legacy publishing, prompting op-ed denials and soothing internal memoranda, is because of some high profile successes. Self-publishing didn’t spring full grown from the head of the Kindle. Authors have been printing their own trade paperbacks for years. Even electronic distribution is as old as FTP. But it’s taken people like Joe Konrath, John Locke and Amanda Hocking to demonstrate what’s really possible.

Now Joe, John and Amanda would be the first to caution you that no one should expect tremendous success straight out the gate. Especially not a first-time author whom no one has heard of. Even as Joe posts his six-figure sales on his blog, he reminds people that it takes professional design, quality product, good marketing and a decent backlist to make it as a writer.

But you can’t help but hope.

When I launched my book on Friday, I got wonderful encouragement from every corner of my life. I flexed every network I had – Facebook, Twitter, word of mouth, Overthinking It – to promote the book. And it worked, too! I sold a decent number of copies – more copies than I have friends with Kindles, which meant word of mouth was spreading.

Then things slowed down a bit.

I know I shouldn’t expect overnight success. Given the realities of digital publishing, I know I’ll be lucky to make back the cost of releasing the book. But Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords put so much data at your fingertips. It takes a trivial effort to check. I just need to mouse over to that link, log in to my Author Central account, and see what the new total is. If I check every day, I can figure out my drop-off rate per day. I could lay it out in a chart, with every day pegged to a particular marketing initiative, to see if …

And you see the problem. When you’re surrounded with numbers, it becomes easy to get immersed. As pattern-seeking animals, we’re great at combining numbers in different ways to get new numbers. But that doesn’t mean all our combinations are useful. If checking my numbers every day adds more stress to my life, or drives me to try spurious experiments in the hopes of boosting them, then the data isn’t helping me.

This isn’t to say my marketing efforts are wasted. I know I need to keep promoting myself (what do you think this blog post is for?). But I’m so far in the hole when it comes to market presence that I don’t need to micro-manage my marketing strategy. Any effort I make, short of something sleazy or exhausting, is worth it at this stage. I’m a neophyte. I’m not even a six of clubs yet.

So for the time being, I’m choosing not to look at my numbers*. I promised myself when I started this that I wasn’t in it for the money (and I’m not; my day job pays well). I wanted to make my name as a writer in the most effective way I saw available. And it’s working. For now.

* Because I know you’re curious: between Friday morning and Monday night, I sold 100 copies of TOO CLOSE TO MISS on Amazon. The overwhelming majority of those were on Friday and the pace has slowed every day. It’s the slowing down that I would find frustrating, if I let it, but I’m putting it out of mind. A month in which I sold 100 copies would be a notable success for a first-time, unknown, self-published author; a weekend in which I sell 100 is a triumph. But the temptation to keep checking is there, unless I consciously silence it.

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